Aftermath: Ben Burgis vs. Gene Epstein



“Democratic socialists should shift their entire strategy to one of creating networks of democratically-run businesses within capitalism, as the only way to realize the ideals of socialism consistent with human liberty”

The above quote is the debate topic I’ve highly anticipated, and it is finally out – you can still catch it on Dave Smith’s Youtube-channel for a limited amount of time: Watch it here! (If you are reading this and that link doesn’t work anymore you have to go here and sign up to listen to the discussion, sorry).


If you want a little more meat on your bones before continuing to read this piece I have an introduction to the topic, who these guys that is in this debate are and a slight prediction of what I thought Ben Burgis was going to bring to the table here.


As a personal reflection on this debate, to me It was a tie. Both parties did okay, Burgis didn’t sway me over to his side and Gene didn’t really reinforce me with his arguments – So for me personally, I didn’t move my position anywhere. Here is a more detailed breakdown from my angle:

What Gene did Right: Genes opening statement was world-class and a good benchmark on how to start off a discussion. Quoting from your opponent(s) books to underline your case was a nice touch. Mr. Epstein set up a solid foundation for worker-coops as the only means to get democratic Socialism by pointing out the low number of associated members to the political theory (50,000 people), making it practically impossible to go the political route in getting change. Genes argument of “Leading by example” as a short-cut to political goals is one I agree with fully.

What Gene lacked: Where Gene really fumbled with the ball was with his “crowdfunding” narrative and the insistence on keeping it going without changing the tracks made it feel like Gene was too married to the concept. I would’ve wanted a bit more from Gene on the societal aspects, since Ben monopolized that angle (and didn’t have to do much to do that). It is a classic (right) libertarian thing to overlook, a tradition Gene keep intact.


What Burgis Did right: Building on Gene’s previous debate with Bhaskar Sunkara and refining the points made there gave me some things to think about, since some of Sunkara’s points was dressed in a way that made more sense when Burgis was the tailor.

What Burgis lacked: The complete opposite of what Gene was missing – The practical. On the few occasions Burgis was trying to build a practical argument, since the topic made it inevitable, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense: He mentioned that worker cooperatives would need medicare-for-all before they could fully commit to it, for example. Why couldn’t health workers create a worker-owned hospital and exchange values with other worker cooperatives? Why is healthcare supposed to be provided by the state, yet other things is fine as worker owned? A lot of Burgis arguments was supposed to be self-evident, but really wasn’t.


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